Former President George Bush has dropped his lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association in outrage over its references to federal agents as “jackbooted government thugs.”
“Your broadside against federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor, and it offends my concept of service to country,” Bush said in a letter to Thomas L. Washington, president of the firearm-owners organization.
“It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us,” Bush wrote. “Please remove my name from your membership list.”
The letter, written May 3, was released Wednesday by Bush’s Houston office.
Jim McGrath, a Bush spokesman, said he does not know how long the former president had been an NRA member. Bush was traveling Wednesday and not reachable, McGrath said.
The Fairfax, Va.-based NRA, which endorsed Bush in 1988 but made no presidential endorsement in 1992, criticized Bush’s going public with his decision.
“Surely, a private exchange between us might persuade you to at least reserve a final opinion until all the facts are examined,” Washington said in a letter sent late Wednesday to Bush. “Such a course of action, I believe, would have better served the country than what will now become a public disagreement that can only lead to more polarization in these troubled times.”
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, in an April 30 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” defended his group’s comments, made in a fund-raising letter.
Asked if such language was excessive in light of the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 167 people, LaPierre replied: “That’s like saying the weather report in Florida on the hurricane caused the damage, rather than the hurricane.”
LaPierre also insisted there was unity within the 3.5 million-member NRA on the need to fight alleged abuses by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and protect the right to bear arms.
On Wednesday, LaPierre reiterated his contentions.
“The American public needs to know the truth about BATF abuses,” he said. “We will meet our critics in congressional hearings and I am confident that when all the testimony is in, our words and actions will be completely vindicated.”
Bush said in his letter that he was outraged by LaPierre’s comments “in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy” and noted Washington had not repudiated the “unwarranted attack.”
“To attack Secret Service agents or ATF people or any government law enforcement people as ‘wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms’ wanting to ‘attack law abiding citizens’ is a vicious slander on good people,” Bush said.
He noted that one victim of the bombing was Al Whicher, who was in the Secret Service contingent that protected Bush as both vice president and president.
“He was no Nazi,” Bush said. “He was a kind man, a loving parent, a man dedicated to serving his country - and serve it well he did.”
Bush also referred to Steve Willis, an ATF agent killed in the federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco.
“I can assure you that this honorable man, killed by weird cultists, was no Nazi,” said Bush, who attended Willis’ wake.
Washington, however, listed the Waco raid among a number of “specific examples of black suited, masked, massively armed mobs of screaming, swearing agents invading the homes of innocents.”
Bush hailed John Magaw, who directs the ATF, and FBI Director Louis Freeh.
“They both have badges. Neither of them would ever give the government’s ‘go ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens,”’ Bush said, quoting the NRA.
Bush referred to himself as a gun owner and avid hunter who has agreed with most of the NRA’s objectives, including its fundamental stance on gun ownership.